Philosophies of Men, Mingled with Scripture

The phrase ‘the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture’ is sometimes used by Mormons to discredit some idea as a false doctrine, even if the idea has some scriptural support.  It almost always has a strong negative connotation associated with it. I imagine that people who have a background and interest in philosophy wish that this phrase, and the usual usage of it, would just go away.  I do not believe it is likely to go anywhere, and since one place this phrase is used is a narrative that is sacred to Mormons – it may be a warning to be taken seriously.

I think it is important to keep in mind that a central and unique claim of Mormonism is that of modern, ongoing revelation.  This revelation takes the general form (through prophets and apostles for example,) and the specific (through individuals).  Thus the preferred alternative to ‘the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture’, is divine revelation.

Yet the revelations themselves suggest that we must study things out in our own minds prior to asking if they are right (D&C 9).  We are also told that God will not command in all things (D&C 58).  Meditation and pondering about the gospel are common exhortations that members of the church are given.  For mankind to be free and moral agents, they must not only be able to act freely and independently,  they must also be able to think freely and independently.  Otherwise agency makes little sense.  Yet, anyone who believes in personal revelation, must accept the possibility that God might influence and  inspire someone’s thinking on a subject.

Thus the ‘philosophies of men, mingled with scripture’ might be the results of meditating and pondering gospel principles (even in an inspired way), and communicating the results in a persuasive and long-suffering way, using the scriptures to show the consistency of the thought, appealing to a common and authoritative  source.  But then again, it may not be any of this.

Ultimately, I believe it comes down to the content of what is being communicated.  I believe that dismissing the religious claims and thoughts of others as being ‘the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture’ is an easy, and lazy way out.  Thought combined with scripture is not necessarily dangerous. 

The philosopher William James gave some criteria that I feel most Mormons would embrace (and probably already do) for evaluating the religious experiences and claims of others in his ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’ chapter 2.  His criteria are:

- How did hearing the claim or experience make you feel?
– What are the fruits?
– Does it make sense?

Such criteria have been used by missionaries for years when discussing the ‘first vision’ of Joseph Smith for example.  Such criteria were likely used when we gained a ‘testimony’ of some religious truth ourselves.

Dismissing false doctrines and ideas is an important thing to do.  When we do this, it should be for the right reasons – the feelings of the spirit, the fruits of the spirit, reasonableness, and not with the all-to-easy label of ‘philosophies of men, mingled with scripture’.

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17 Responses to “Philosophies of Men, Mingled with Scripture”


  1. 1 eric June 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    A philosophy of man mingled with scripture is different than a philosophy found in the scriptures and discussed or applied by men.

    One uses man’s philosophies first, and finds any potential justification for them in the scriptures (That man is a wolf in sheeps clothing so I won’t go home teach him–yes it’s been used before)

    The other starts with what we find in the scripture and uses it to added to our understand of the gospel and ability to live it more fully.

    I always use the two great commandments as baseline on philosophies that develop out of the scriptures (Which is very helpful, otherwise how do we liken them to ourselves): Does it inspire/promote men to love god and keep his commandments? Does it promote men to love their neighbor as there self?

  2. 2 SilverRain June 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I always thought this was analogous to “wresting scripture” which essentially means that you come up with your own ideas and use scripture to prove it. Scripture is the afterthought.

    That is hugely different than using our imperfect understanding to attempt to understand divine things. And I agree, it is certainly useless to use the phrase as a dismissive label.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson June 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    eric:

    I think we basically agree here. Which comes first (the revelations or the philosophies) is certainly an important factor. Also, you two great commandments I think are what I was getting at with the ‘fruits’ of the idea.

    SilverRain:

    I think your ‘wresting scripture’ is part of the worry. There are those I am sure who start with their view of things, and then try to find isolated verses of scripture to attempts some validation.

  4. 4 Mommie Dearest June 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I think bad church cultural practices within in our own membership qualify as the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.

  5. 6 Thomas Parkin June 24, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    When the devil say that, he points out to the audience.

    The people who is doin it isn’t them … them doesn’t matter. The people who is doin it is us. ~

  6. 7 Eric Nielson June 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Thomas:

    I think you have a good point in there somewhere, but I am not sure what it is.

  7. 8 Chris H. June 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I mingle scripture with the philosophies of men for a living.

  8. 10 Chris H. June 24, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    It will be much more fun than doing it at BYU-Idaho/BYU. Casper is less anal about these things.:)

  9. 11 Thomas Parkin June 25, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Hi Eric,

    I’m not sure about my point, either. Probably just that, as with everything else, we think the lesson is about those crazy Xtians, or whoever, but the lesson is really meant to be internalized. Who is the foolish virgin? Me. Who is the man with one talent? Me. Who is the Pharisee? well, that one isn’t me … but the point is clear!

    I wont post to this blog stoned, ever again. (actually, I was down to 90 seconds on the library computer!) ~

  10. 12 Eric Nielson June 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

    TP: Okay, so perhaps the point is not to be duped by the ‘philosophies of men, mingled with scripture’ rather than go around accusing others of spreading it. (Since much of the time that is all we have to go on anyway.)

  11. 13 Olive June 28, 2010 at 7:33 am

    But even using the guide of “how does it make you feel?” can be misleading. More often than not, the reason people get so uppity about different thoughts or theories is because it makes them uncomfortable. Either because they’ve never heard it before or because it causes them to give up something easier (and safer) to believe in. Many parts of our gospel are tough to swallow. So some would rather take it at face value (ie, the lessons they learned in Primary) than to delve any further. Black and white is much more comforting than gray.

  12. 14 Eric Nielson June 28, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Yes it is.

    Yet I would maintain that it is only through the spirit that we can gain knowledge of spiritual things. How else can we gain a testimony of the atonement as an example?

  13. 15 Philip Carlson November 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    I know this is an old article, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. The opening paragraph describes how I see the phrase being used, while Olive describes the reason I believe it is most often misused. There have been several definitions of ‘philosophies of men’ given above. The one I currently use is that if it’s intent is to lead men away from Christ, it qualifies. Many Mormons dismiss most philosophy and science using this concept. I have the opposite view that most philosophy and science comes from God. I am convinced that all knowledge is part of one great whole, or ultimate knowledge. Even that knowledge that is produced by anti-theists has truth. What we should be wary of is being led away from Christ.

  14. 16 Eric Nielson November 23, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Thanks Phillip, that is probably a good way to think of it.


  1. 1 2010 in review « Small and Simple Trackback on January 12, 2011 at 8:13 am

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